Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford, Labour):
I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution, which I shall limit to my constituency, and to housing benefit in particular. Lewisham is a relatively poor borough, where wages are around £26,500 per annum on average and where the mean house price in sales last year was £240,000. In common with most London boroughs, we are an area of extreme housing stress, brought about primarily by population growth and the fragmentation of households. Changes in housing benefit will have a devastating effect on people who seek to be decently housed in Lewisham.
Ministers have sought to present their cuts and their new proposals in the light of a few absolutely extortionate rents. They have spoken continuously about the cap and the fact that people should not be able to claim benefits to live in what they deem to be luxury accommodation. That is not something that affects the majority of housing benefit claimants in this country. When he sums up, will the Minister, who is not paying attention- [ Interruption ] I am glad to see that he now is paying attention. Will he tell us what proportion of all housing benefit claimants in the UK are affected by the cap? In Lewisham, fewer than one in 1,000 people will be affected. Our people are not living in luxury, but let me tell him that this change will be a tragedy for the biggest families, living in the biggest properties-often in quite squalid conditions-and they will be evicted.
The fact is that a conservative estimate made by my local authority finds that 9,050 households are affected by the generality of changes that are proposed by this Government. I further tell the Minister, to nail another myth perpetrated by this Government, that 5,000 of those are people in work.
The loss for a one-bedroom property is about £11 a week; for a three-bedroom property, £34 a week; and for a four-bedroom property, £57 a week. People cannot make up this difference from their low wages-very low in Lewisham, as I have said-and they could not make it up if they were in receipt of benefit because of unemployment. There is no way these people can make it up, so they will be evicted. What will happen then? There are 17,000 people waiting for council housing in Lewisham; there are 50 families already in bed and breakfast; there are 1,000 households in temporary accommodation. There are no alternatives for the people I am concerned about. They will not be able to rent and they will not be able to find cheaper accommodation because of the huge pressure on housing-pressure that will come from richer boroughs that try to put people out of their own area and into areas like Lewisham.
The Government argue that rents will fall. They will not. We have so many young professionals who cannot purchase property because of the prices and because they cannot get loans-and they are taking up any slack. The Government argue that this is an incentive to work-a terrible insult to those who are unemployed. When Labour were in government, unemployment fell by 50% in my constituency. We halved unemployment and the fact is that it has risen only because of the recession. People want to work and people will work.
I am absolutely sickened when I hear the Government speak about fairness. There is nothing fair about these measures-nothing fair whatever-and they are going to hurt the most vulnerable most. They are absolutely sickening. They will not drive people into work; they will not lower the prices; there is nothing fair about the housing benefit changes and nothing more punitive. This is a catastrophe in the making-a catastrophe for my people in Lewisham, for London as a whole and for this great capital city. I remember when people slept in cardboard boxes on the South Bank. This Government are planning to bring back those conditions.